YOUNG women can’t just get on with the job in hand, no matter what that job might be.
There’s a trend that’s been increasingly common in the past few years for the mainstreaming of therapist-speak.
People don’t have a bit of a think any more, they “reflect”. They don’t have a bath, they prioritise self-care.
Projection is another one of these terms folk like to use in the layman’s diagnosis of themselves or others. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hop right on that bandwagon.
Young women can’t simply crack on with what they’d like to crack on with, because of the unrealistic traits projected on to them by the media, by fans, by political groups, who need to have some kind of totem for their cause.
A nation’s joy at the success of Emma Raducanu lasted mere seconds before she was being touted as the poster girl for a whole host of causes.
Her earning potential was much celebrated – she could become a billionaire if she sticks at it and chooses to be a brand ambassador for the right products and services.
The number on the cheque presented to her following her US Open win was oft repeated, and to hang with the usual British squeamishness over money. I’m not sure I could tell you what tennis players take home from Wimbledon, but I know what’s made its way into Raducanu’s bank account because they were discussing it at length on Radio 4. And everywhere else.
She’s also the poster girl for a new generation of hyper-talented teenagers: not only did she dominate Flushing Meadows, she earned an A and an A* in her A levels and also passed her driving test.
Imagine being in Raducanu’s class at school. You’d barely be able to face your disappointed parents. In fact, the mum of one of her classmates tweeted of Raducanu’s incomparable successes and followed it with a mention that her own daughter’s most noteable achievement in the same timeframe was breaking her wrist at a festival.
Raducanu is also touted as the acceptable face of multi-culturalism. Social media was doing a lot of “take that, Nigel Farage” due to her mixed heritage, born in Canada to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father.
Notably, press reports spoke of the family “moving to” Britain when the tennis star was two years old, quietly parking the more inflammatory but equally correct “migrated to”.
Obviously, it’s satisfying to give Mr Farage a shot in the eye but it’s tiresome and unhelpful to go down the route of the deserving and undeserving immigrant. Raducanu is a glorious success story but we need fruit pickers and HGV drivers just as much as, or more than, we need tennis stars.
She is touted as being an inspiration for a generation and an influence on the future of tennis. A panel show the other morning was talking about her being a role model for the “future generation” of the sport. Surely at 18 you still feel that you are the future generation.
Following her withdrawal from Wimbledon earlier this year, Raducanu was also the target of much speculation about her mental health. She was criticised by the likes of Piers Morgan, who joins the tradition of middle-aged men making critical speculation about the inner lives of teenage girls – but praised by those who thought her decision to step back was a brave commentary on prioritising mental health above all else.
Ultimately, no one outwith her circle had any real idea of why she might have pulled out of the contest. It was all projection, guesswork from people seeing what they wanted to see.
Yet, despite all this, quotes from her have been quite glorious. After saying she doesn’t feel any pressure at the moment, she also said she’s still to check her phone.
“I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow,” she said. “I definitely think it’s the time to just switch off from any future thoughts or any plans, any schedule. I’ve got absolutely no clue. Right now, no care in the world, I’m just loving life.”
Certainly, at Monday night’s Met Gala in New York, Raducanu looked like a young woman having a literal and figurative ball.
There, too, was fellow young success story Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, making a statement in her Tax The Rich dress. The event also saw Billie Eilish become the youngest co-chair in the ball’s history.
Those young women are also national sweethearts, feted not just for their talents but for what they represented to other people.
Eilish was touted as a refreshing new role model for girls and young women. A complicated message about her fashion choices told young fans that they didn’t need to wear skintight clothing and could express themselves in baggy shirts and loose trousers.
Girls who take pleasure in form-fitting outfits, well, who knows what they made of it all. But when Eilish chose to revamp her look and wear a new style, she was hounded for it. She had let her fans down.
AOC, America’s youngest congresswoman, was a nation’s sweetheart until a nation felt berated and chided – nagged, even – by her left-wing credentials and now she’s penalised for everything from her dress choice at the Met Gala to dancing as a young student.
Watching Raducanu have the time of her life is so bittersweet because it comes with the anxiety of knowing that we’re not good with young women. As soon as an expectation is failed or a slip-up is made, the hounding begins.
A quick glance around sees Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Laureate, criticised and undermined by charges that she is a puppet of her father rather than an autonomous young women. Then there is Greta Thunberg, international climate change campaigner, slated for everything from being undemocratic to not smiling enough.
What a burden to bear. No matter what talents they have, no matter the hype and projection, the metaphors and morals, critics waiting in the wings might do well to remember Raducanu and her peers are young women. Merely young women and miraculously young women.
Mistakes will be made and we have to let them get on with it unmarred.